Bela Fleck On Collaboration

“Collaboration is a high art. It’s about finding someone that sparks you, and figuring out what you can add without being dominative. Sometimes, it’s about diving in bravely—although you can’t intuitively play complex music. You have to do the work, and doing different things means making a decision against becoming a specialist. I’m best at bluegrass, but because I’m constantly going between international music, jazz, and even classical, I’m always making every effort to not suck.
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I can’t make believe I’m an African musician when I play with Zakir Hussain, but I can soak up a phrase, and then improvise back. It’s best to begin with a simple interaction. In Africa, they may teach you a folk song. Start to embroider it, and then you’re suddenly on another level. To approach jazz, you might start by embellishing a blues progression. It’s rewarding to look outside of what you normally do, because you’ll grow very quickly by comparison, and it’s exciting to play something for the first time. On the other hand, the Flecktones is a unique collaboration that has lasted 18 years, and I value getting to our next phase of evolution as much as playing with someone new.”